The Deep End with Aisha Farida
Introducing our new mini-series — The Deep End — where we shine a light on inspiring people in our community and dive deeper into the way they think, live and swim. Meet Aisha Farida, a chemical engineering graduate, and now a full-time whiskey distiller based in NYC. We talk about her career journey, the challenges she's faced in a typically male-dominated workplace, and how her degree influences her day to day.
By Aisha Farida, Chelsea Covington
Can you tell us about your journey into distilling whiskey as a career path?
I studied Chemical Engineering in university, but it never occurred to me that I could or would become a distiller. My capstone project was actually to design a process for the manufacturing of nonalcoholic beer, but at the time, it was just that; a cool project!
When I graduated, I knew I wanted to move to NYC, and I was looking for more traditional engineering jobs in the pharmaceutical or consumer goods industry. I did briefly work for Victoria’s Secret R&D, where I worked on cosmetic formulations and product development; it was a lot of fun, but I quickly realized I wanted to do a bit more technical and hands-on work.
When I started shopping around for a new job, distilling kind of fell into my lap, and I was hired to run the first distillery in Manhattan since prohibition. I worked there for three years making vodka before I started at Manhattan’s second distillery (or first whiskey distillery) since prohibition.
What were the most challenging things you've faced in a typically male-dominated industry?
Overall, I’ve been so lucky to have amazing mentors in the industry, both male and female, who taught me the ins and outs of distilling, showed me how to navigate working in the spirits industry, and advocated for me when it came time for performance reviews or applying to new jobs. But of course, there have been many times when I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously by peers, vendors, contract workers, or customers visiting the distillery.
I’ve gotten a lot of comments expressing doubt in the ability to do different parts of my job, such as heavy lifting, driving the forklift. People have even doubted if I “even like whiskey” because it’s traditionally a spirit marketed to men. I try to shrug off the judgmental comments and occasionally push back with a light-hearted “is it because I’m a woman?” which usually is enough to make someone reevaluate their choice of words.
Now that I’ve been distilling for over 4 years, I feel a lot more confident both in the distillery and in conversations with other members of the industry.
How does your chemical engineering degree play a role in your day to day?
It’s not necessarily traditional to have an engineering degree as a distiller. It certainly isn’t necessary to learn the trade. Still, it’s a frame of reference that helps me to understand the chemical process and inherent hazards of my work, to react quickly and confidently when something goes wrong, and to implement process improvement methodologies efficiently.
My day-to-day doesn’t consist of very complicated math or designing new process flows, but I am always dealing with highly flammable and combustible liquids as well as heavy machinery and process equipment, so understanding how they behave and operate under the given conditions is critical to the safe operation of a distillery—especially one in the middle of the city!
Where is your favourite place to swim?
I have so many core memories that include swimming as a kid, it’s hard to pick just one place, but I grew up in Florida, so I basically grew up in the Atlantic Ocean.
In the summer, when the water feels like bath water, it’s definitely one of my favorite places to swim. When I visit my grandma in Munich, Germany, we swim in the Eisbach in the English Garden—the water is absolutely freezing, but it runs through the most beautiful park and in the summer it’s surrounded by people sunbathing and taking a dip when it gets too hot, the energy is immaculate.
What is one thing you would say to your younger self?
Honestly, I’m pretty proud of my younger self, and am so grateful for the decisions she made, because they got me to where I am now…. And I know it sounds corny, but if younger me could see my life in NYC, she wouldn't believe it.
But if there was one thing, I would tell my younger self (in her late teens-early twenties) to stop taking everything so seriously, and to just have fun!
What's your favourite Youswim swimsuit?
I love the Eva cheeky two-piece for beach days, it’s so comfortable, and the top is supportive without being too high coverage—perfect for tanning!
The one-piece is great because it doubles as a very flattering bodysuit, I’m obsessed with wearing it under sheer dresses or skirts.